Do you remember those old 78 rpm records? If you're young enough to have no clue about recordings that preceded cassettes, 78s were those records that featured one song to a side and were so easily broken. Perhaps you've heard your grandparents speak of them. Should you think 78s are nothing more than esoteric relics, might I suggest that you check out online auction sites like eBay. Last summer, I kept up with a number of eBay auctions, and my observations proved interesting---even downright astonishing at times!
Old Blues Records Stand Out in the Crowd
There is a definite market for 78 rpm records, and collectors don't mind paying good prices for the best and rarest, whether they were recorded in the 1950s or the 1920s.
You would think that the recent release of bio pics chronicling the lives and careers of legendary musicians Ray Charles and Johnny Cash might prompt a dramatic increase in the value and popularity of their oldest records, but I was able to obtain an Atlantic 78 rpm record containing Charles's "Drown In My Own Tears" and "Mary Ann" for only $9.99 on eBay last year. Worth noting, the record was in pristine condition. Like Elvis Presley, B. B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis and other legends, Johnny Cash recorded for Sam Phillips' Memphis-based Sun Records, and one of his Sun 78s, featuring "I Walk the Line" (the namesake of the 2005 James Mangold-directed film starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon), did bring $102.50 on eBay in November 2005, but many Cash recordings can be acquired for very reasonable prices.
Some of the steepest prices, on the other hand, are paid for certain old blues records. However, it takes more than genre, age and condition to make a record create a bidding war on eBay. For example, last year eBay auctions included a Tampa Red recording on RCA Victor described as near mint that brought only $7.00. Also, Bessie Smith's famous "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" in "E++" condition sold for a whopping $9.99 and Ethel Waters' Black Swan release of "Dying with the Blues" and "Kiss Your Pretty Baby Nice" climbed to $33.45.
Compare those modest prices to Paramount releases from Ida Cox, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Ma Rainey! These records remain hot commodities decades after the deaths of the artists who recorded them.
Ida Cox was noted for her death-themed songs and particularly famous for her raucous "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues." In 2005, eBay dealer tomkellyarchives of St. Louis sold Cox's Paramount 78s 12251 ("Graveyard Dream Blues" and "Mississippi River Blues") and 12353 ("Do Lawd Do" and "Night and Day Blues") for $124.95 and $255.00 respectively.